Participation of Whom?


Father Philip raises a good point in his post below. Like many conservatives, I think he’s mischaracterized the progressive approach to full, conscious and active participation. In my post, I alluded to “conservative problems” with this Vatican II theme, which as Fr Philip rightly points out, was not an original idea to the Council.

I was referring to the revisionist theology at play in translating “active” to “actual,” which rather covers the two accompanying adjectives in the phrase, namely full and conscious. Accompanying this is sort of a squishy notion of “if the people can pray along, it doesn’t matter of the choir, the priest, or whomever elbows aside their part. The Roman Missal is clear in its text that the people together with the priest sing the Sanctus. Promoters of concert Masses salve their loyalty to the Rite by saying the people don’t actually have to sing it. But the Missal would say otherwise.

Sacrosanctum Concilium 11 gives a useful definition of what “full, conscious, and active” means:

But in order that the liturgy may be able to produce its full effects, it is necessary that the faithful come to it with proper dispositions, that their minds should be attuned to their voices, and that they should cooperate with divine grace lest they receive it in vain (28) . Pastors of souls must therefore realize that, when the liturgy is celebrated, something more is required than the mere observation of the laws governing valid and licit celebration; it is their duty also to ensure that the faithful take part fully aware of what they are doing, actively engaged in the rite, and enriched by its effects.

To summarize:
- a proper mindset
- a unity of the interior and exterior expression
- more than rubricism
- full awareness
- active engagement
- spiritual enrichment

Six good things by which any pastor or liturgist should measure himself or herself.

Fr Philip wrote:

What liturgical conservative object to is the perverse interpretation given to the otherwise innocuous phrase. The phrase is typically trotted out by LL’s to justify the ever-expanding “role-playing” of lay ministers in the liturgy of the Eucharist, i.e., a Speaking Part for Every Catholic. One is not fully, actively participating unless one has one’s fifteen seconds in front of the assembly “doing something.”

Well, not exactly. The root of this role-playing would be in the pre-conciliar practices of priestly concelebration taken to extremes. I’ve never thought of the sense of active participation as anything other than the role of the people in the pews. I do think some musicians tend to usurp those roles, but one can find it happening in concert Masses, and in other regular appeals to justify having the choir sing or organ play instead of following the prescriptions of the GIRM regarding the people’s song.

While its true that some progressives have participated in such abuses, it is also true that conservative-aligned groups have done so as well. Otherwise good-intentioned groups such as the KC or other sodalities have intruded from time to time at Mass, insisting on processions, special seating, and the like, especially on important occasions and when the bishop or some dignitary is on site. I consider it a fault less of ideology and more than of personal fault.

What drives conservatives batty is the use of this otherwise perfectly good phrase to justify 30 EM’s at communion, three different lectors, and the sense that one hasn’t attended Mass unless one has some sort of “walk on” part during the performace.

I have to say I’ve never thought of it in that way. More likely, numbers of liturgical minsitries are generated by pragmatism. If my parish church had 1500 people coming to a Mass, I might need close to 30EM’s. (Though I might add that as a musician, I wouldn’t mind adding a second communion song for a very long procession; not everyone thinks that way.) As for three lectors, I’d rather each lector of three took time to prepare one reading or the prayer of the faithful very well. I can’t see the fault in dividing reading roles amongst more people; that’s a firaly standard practice in most every parish.

While there are people who like to have multiple roles at a Mass, seeing themselves as sort of a semi-deacon, that practice is most often discouraged, except in cases of true necessity. And again, it is as often a fault of those who see themselves in a conservative light as “Father’s Best Helper,” and heaven forbid someone should horn in on their turf.

Pius X, XII, and VC2 used the phrase to remind the laity in the assembly to pray along with the priest in order to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice with him. They were actively discouraging merely attending Mass as if the simply act of sitting in a pew constitutes participation. Both Popes and the Council Fathers wanted people to pay attention to the prayers of the Mass, i.e., attend to Mass rather than private/personal devotionals during Mass.

This is an accurate take on the sense of the phrase. We have certainly had an actual discouragement of passive presence at worship. I think that going beyond “paying attention” is useful. People should be encouraged to actually pray the prayers of the Mass: unifying both interior and exterior expressions.

Let me state for the record I have no problem per se with the conservative input in the Roman Rite, either theologically or in the pastoral application in parishes. But I would challenge conservatives who think they speak for the people, especially progressives, to get their story straight. It does little good to attempt to conduct an argument while doing both voices.

I’m pleased to hear from a liturgical conservative that the Vatican II principle of “full, active, and conscious participation” is claimed by conservatives as well. That’s a good starting point of common ground from which to build.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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